29 April 2010

TOURIST turned traveler

The days after visiting India gained velocity –traveling became a rush against the clock as we docked from one Asian country to the next for the following few weeks, taking the days at sea in between each port to alleviate sleep deprivation and travel-worn, tired feet. India marked the physical halfway point in our journey ‘round the globe, and the thought that we were now turning around ignited our stamina to see and do everything possible. As a result, journal entries became more and more scattered; statements quickly turned to phrases and jots. Like all travel experiences, those crazy days have required some significant processing time. After all, it’s been more than a year since the voyage and I’ve only documented the first half… and I’ve only skimmed the surface.

Before the whirlwind begins, I’d like to take a step back from Malaysia tales and return across the Bay of Bengal to India, to the day I realized how not to travel, and the day that inspired the creation of this blog.

The last two days in New Delhi have been a blur of sights and sounds and buildings and tour guides. Traveling in a large group is getting intense, and half the time we can’t even get out of the bus that reads “TOURIST” in huge block letters across the front. This is not experiencing culture- it’s a human zoo with a metal barrier.

To elaborate on the intensity I described, I’d like to add that the bus reading “TOURIST” was filled with at least 50 American students, and it followed another bus with the same capacity and the same demoralizing word slapped across the front. It was a scorching day with no clouds in the sky. The windows of the bus wouldn’t come open. Someone threw up that morning, and the stench had permeated throughout the entire vehicle. I was doused in sweat and could only focus my thoughts on how rewarding a tall glass of ice water, or maybe a cold brew, sounded. As the bus jumped from Agra to the Taj Mahal to the Fatehpur Sikri village, I watched them float across tattered, foggy windows. Although I spotted all of the famous buildings that the tour guide pointed out, my memories from that day still consist of tang and discomfort on that mucky bus.

When we did get out of the bus, street vendors swarmed us… And for good reason: The “TOURIST” label was practically an invitation to attack us with trinkets for sale. Most of the desperate vendors couldn’t have been more than ten years old, and all I could wonder was whom they would bring their magnet-sale money home to that night, or if there was home to go to at all.

I decided that if I have a label I'd like it to be "traveler" instead of TOURIST.  I knew I was missing out on conversations, (bearable) scents, sounds of the city, smiles with passersby, and the like by sitting sedentarily watching it all go by. I had flashbacks of the huge bus that invaded the favelas in Brazil, and the standardized lion-hunting safari drive in South Africa. In all of those situations I was just sitting in some sort of transportation, removed from the activity around me. It was one of those epiphany, “a-ha!” moments –I didn’t want to be an audience to the bustling streets of India; I wanted to be a participant.  

I kept writing frantically. As I formulated my plan for this blog, the oh-so-overused cliché kept running through my head. “Live for the journey, not the destination.” I overuse it here once more because although chestnut, the phrase reminds me to slow down a bit and take it all in.

I think this blog will help me to tell all my stories –and it will get me started on my future journey. It will be a “travel” blog about virtually anything I do. Let’s face it –traveling means waiting in lines, getting lost, experiencing mass transit, getting confused, feeling uncomfortable and doing a hell of a lot of sitting. You don’t have to be in a new country to do all that. Traveling can happen anywhere, and the results are transformative. I think I’ll call it “En Route” or “In Transit” until I can come up with something cleverer. Endless possibilities because I’m always headed somewhere –I’ll be in transit my whole life.

So now with a breath of fresh air, so to speak, back to Malaysia, and the following countries, and beyond. I continue to journal to this day, and I'm excited for the evolution of Global Osmosis (a much more fitting title than "In Transit," if you ask me). 

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